Bureau Beefs Up Biometrics Capabilities

September 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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FBI seeks the best of the best in nonproprietary, interoperable biometrics collection tools.

Bionics made Col. Steve Austin better, stronger and  faster as the lead 1970s television character in The Six Million Dollar Man so he could defeat fictional bad guys, but it will be biometrics that make the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s capabilities bigger, better and faster to fight real adversaries. And, while the fictional Office of Scientific Intelligence spent $6 million on its singular secret bio-weapon, the bureau will spend $1 billion during the next 10 years to enhance identification systems that will benefit the entire United States. During that time, fingerprint database capacity will be doubled, and emerging identification techniques such as iris and facial recognition will be adopted after verifying their reliability and worth.

The Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) framework for a future multimodal biometrics system. The contract, awarded to an industry team led by Lockheed Martin’s Transportation and Security Solutions division in Rockville, Maryland, calls for the companies to design, develop, document, integrate, test and deploy the new system. Lockheed Martin’s primary job is as integrator—evaluating and choosing the best products. FBI officials maintain that the move to the NGI system will not expand the categories of individuals from whom fingerprints and biometric data will be collected; it will, however, enable the collection of additional biometric data from criminals and terrorists.

Leading the FBI in this mega effort is the bureau’s Crim- inal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division. The divisions’ home in Clarksburg, West Virginia, is the birthplace of the current best-known and widely used identification verification system: the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

Thomas E. Bush III, assistant director, CJIS, notes that the bureau’s customers—law enforcement organizations throughout the United States as well as many federal agencies—were not exactly knocking down the door and asking for new biometric means to verify identities. “Regardless, I think we were far-sighted enough to see that there are going to be needs for these other biometrics,” Bush says. “NGI will give us bigger, better, faster capabilities and lead us into the future.”

The extensive use of the current IAFIS system certainly demonstrates the critical need to boost capabilities. While the number of checks of suspected criminals has remained fairly steady, work from other areas has increased significantly. “We have a lot more demands on our system now. We just broke another record—nearly 147,000 completions in a 24-hour period,” Bush relates. A completion is identification of a 10-fingerprint submission. The system was built to handle 62,500 completions a day, he adds.

The IAFIS system is being pushed to the limits in turnaround times as well. While in the law enforcement area it was built to provide identifications from fingerprints two hours after receipt, more than 90 percent of the time the information is provided in 12 to 15 minutes. In comparison, Bush shares that when he joined the FBI in 1975, it could take as long as two months to accomplish this same task for one set of fingerprints.

On the noncriminal side of the identification work, the promise was to have the information ready in 24 hours; in more than 90 percent of the requests, this work is complete in two hours.

“The [IAFIS] system contains about 57 million of what I call bad-guy prints, and everybody wants identification as quickly as they can get it. That’s been a challenge. IAFIS was built with mid-1990s technology, and I think it’s done a fantastic job,” he adds.

In addition to its support of traditional customers, the FBI now checks the identities of visa applicants for the U.S. State Department. Beginning in January 2008, the bureau became part of the worldwide process of 10-print identity verification, a job that involves processing approximately 15,000 print sets a day, each now completed in less than 15 minutes.

And yet another job the FBI has taken on recently is fingerprint identification at a dozen ports of entry. “That’s a big reason for these increases in numbers, and there are more laws being passed all the time for these civil background checks,” Bush points out.

Although CJIS worked with the U.S. Defense Department’s Biometrics Fusion Center prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that relationship has grown as well. “They’re in the middle of their next-generation AFIS, so the systems [the Defense Department’s AFIS and the NGI] are and will be based on the same standards. Clearly, the key to interoperability is the development and use of standards,” Bush states.

Matt Monaco, a West Virginia University student, explains an iris recognition technology to Lockheed Martin’s Barbara Humpton at the opening of the company’s Biometric Experimentation and Advanced Concepts (BEACON) center in Fairmont, West Virginia.
As part of the decision to move ahead with developing the NGI system, CJIS commissioned a requirements study. The division’s senior staff members emphasized that they wanted the evaluation to be as customer-inclusive as possible, so the study garnered input from the international and information technology communities as well as from legacy customers, including the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence community. “We recognized that inclusion was critical,” Bush states. One of the reasons inclusion is so important in the planning stages is that enhancing information sharing among federal, state and local authorities is one of the primary goals of the NGI system, he adds.

Increased interoperability will be one of the ways the NGI system is better than previous technologies. Although automated fingerprint identification systems have been in use since the 1980s, many were proprietary, vendor-driven systems that did not interoperate. The goal is to avoid a similar situation when designing the new system, Bush relates.

Additional biometrics capabilities will be another aspect of the NGI that makes it superior to the IAFIS. This is one of the reasons the bureau is interested in the best algorithms it can secure for matching biometrics information to database content. Among the biometrics measures the FBI is considering are palm print, iris and facial recognition. While many foreign countries as well as state and local law enforcement agencies already have a palm print-matching capability, the bureau does not. “So we want to get that in there pretty quickly. We’ve already started collecting palm prints from a number of states. But we want to add not just a storing capability but also a matching capability relative to palms,” Bush relates. This will be an important improvement because approximately 20 percent of latent prints gathered at crime scenes are from the palms of the criminal, he adds.

Because facial recognition technologies are improving, the FBI plans to conduct studies in this area and then add them to the tool set once a business case can be made. And other biometrics measurements—voice, gait and earlobe configuration among them—also will be considered as the technologies in these areas become available and prove reliable.

Reliability will be an important part of the FBI’s assessment of a capability before it is added to the NGI, Bush notes, and for good reason. For example, facial recognition is reported to be 80-percent accurate, a reasonably high percentage until the number of subjects is figured into the equation. In an airport that services 10,000 travelers each day, for example, this rate would still mean that hundreds of passengers could be detained as a result of a false positive result, Bush explains.

DNA may be another biometrics feature used for identification verification, but Bush admits that several medical, legal and privacy issues first must be resolved before moving forward on that front. “We should be able to figure that out in a way that can make it more accessible. There are more and more laws now being passed that are requiring fingerprint checks and also certain criminal acts that are allowing for DNA to be taken. So we need to make sure that we’re part of that effort as well,” he says.

Because system changes can be costly, the CJIS works through its Advisory Policy Board, which comprises representatives from its entire customer base. “We run all of our system changes through them. The focus is making sure we’re not putting anything out there that they don’t want or can’t afford,” Bush explains. However, many of the new items will have to be built with backward compatibility in mind, he adds.

In addition, the FBI is working closely with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) regarding standards, and the bureau publishes a list of certified products so customers are assured that products operate as promised.

“Anything we can do to support DOD, support the border patrol, immigration people, that’s what we’ve been able to do with this interoperability, and NGI’s just going to help us do it better. Is everybody out there going to need an iris capability; maybe not. Is everybody going to want to use facial; maybe, probably more,” Bush relates.
A project of this magnitude will pose some challenges to the FBI and the agencies it works with, and as the prime contractor it will be Lockheed Martin’s job to ensure that bumps in the road do not become insurmountable hurdles. Barbara Humpton, director, NGI program, Transportation and Security Solutions, Lockheed Martin, says that the most important aspect of the job will be establishing a solid overall execution plan. The company has created what she describes as a vendor-neutral framework that will allow the FBI, over time, to take advantage of the best that industry has to offer in multimodal biometrics.

The first step will be to choose an upgraded fingerprint identification technology. A trade study of commercial products using evaluations from NIST began this summer and will continue through 2008. Humpton expects a selection to be made early in 2009.

“This is a very important selection because fingerprint technology has been so critical to law enforcement. Knowing the advancements that have been made in both accuracy and speed, we are looking forward to making that available at the earliest opportunity,” she explains.

In parallel with this work, the Lockheed Martin team is establishing a service-oriented architecture framework. NGI will move from fingerprint into palm print, facial and iris recognition over time. “This is very much an incremental, phased approach that will unfold and introduce new technologies through the end-user community,” Humpton emphasizes. Emergent technologies such as reliable and accurate facial and iris recognition are “further out in the NGI plan,” on the five-year horizon, she adds.

Despite the quest for new technologies, Humpton describes the work as “an evolution.” The bureau already has some capabilities that are perfectly suited for the job, she says, and the Lockheed Martin team will reuse those components, bringing them right into the new architecture. “I think that’s the beauty of the solution we’ve come up with. We don’t have to replace everything. If it doesn’t need to be replaced, we’re not replacing it,” she says.

“That’s the basic plan for NGI: an incremental development plan that brings these things in—in this order—into a vendor-neutral, open-standard framework. It gives FBI staff the ability to plug and play different technologies without getting locked into any particular vendors, and I think that’s really key to them. They’ll have the ability to, over time, adapt to the emerging, leading technologies,” she notes.

Expanding its identification verification toolkit is only one aspect of the NGI program. Bush allows that the future also holds expansion in cooperation between organizations as well. “The next level after this is integrating more with the intelligence community and then the international community. We’re getting our act together pretty well in the United States, but these other foreign entities want access to the bad-guy stuff too—and we want access to their bad-guy stuff. We’ve always had a lot of bilateral agreements. ‘Send a print over, fax a print over and take a look at this to see if you’ve ever seen this guy before.’ But we need to come up with something that’s more secure, that protects privacy of individuals, that meets all the data- sharing laws that are out there. There’s a great deal of interest, and I think a great deal of need to do that in a real-time, efficient manner,” Bush says.

Web Resources
Next Generation Identification: www.fbi.gov/thisweek/archive/thisweek062708.htm
FBI Criminal Justice Information Services: www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/cjis.htm
Lockheed Martin Transportation and Security Solutions: www.lockheedmartin.com/isgs/tss
Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS): www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/iafis.htm
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